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WVU President Gee says change has accelerated as university copes with budget gap

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, in the middle of tightening the institution’s belt, said the pace of change in higher education is picking up.

Gordon Gee

“I have felt for some time, and I think the data is now proving that we’re in a changing environment,” Gee, who has been WVU president since 2014, said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” “You know, when I came here 10 years ago, it was sort of business as usual.

“Then we had the pandemic, and the post-pandemic world has shown that things are dramatically different, just the challenges that we face with higher education. Not only do we have financial challenges, but we also have the fact that we have a demographic cliff. About 25 percent fewer students are coming into higher education, and on top of that we have about 4 million students drop out.”

Gee made similar points in a letter last week to the campus community.

WVU is dealing with an estimated $45 million budget gap for the coming year through a combination of staff cuts, tuition increases of about 3 percent and dipping into savings. University officials have said the gap could be millions more than that in coming years unless action is taken.

About half of WVU’s academic programs are under review. The designation doesn’t mean the academic programs are likely to be shut down. But it means they’ll be examined for potential shutdown, retention or scaling back.

“Our data was really clear, that we have programs that are really flourishing; we have others that are not doing as well,” Gee said.

“We’re reviewing to see what are things we can support, what are things we should be supporting, what are areas that should be consolidated. In other words, a review is something we should be doing, and we’re going to do these reviews every few years now. Because I think that we, like many institutions, ran ourselves on the basis of what we thought rather than what the data shows us.”

For the next couple of weeks, deans and chairs are seeking guidance from faculty and staff about program reviews before submitting self-study forms to the provost’s office.

“If you take a look at the data in front of us, our faculty numbers have remained relatively the same. In fact, over the past 10 years, in fact, there’s been a little bit of growth. Our staff members are down about 550 over this period of time, and our students are down 5,000. So anyone taking a look at that, you realize our issues are now profound,” Gee said.

Gee has acknowledged — during a “campus conversation” and a faculty senate meeting last week — that it would be natural for employees to worry.

“Oh, I think that we have to rebuild morale,” Gee said, adding that universities aren’t accustomed to change. “But saying all of that, I think we will be a better institution. We’ll grow our quality, which I think is what every faculty member wants to see and what I want to have happen.”

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